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4.4 National reform through Empowered Communities

In 2015, 25 Indigenous leaders from eight regions

supported by Jawun gathered on the Central Coast

of New South Wales and joined forces to lead

transformational change. Their motivation was borne

of common themes: feelings of powerlessness, and

blindness in decisions and funding investments

concerning their own communities. These barriers

were crippling development and service provision

in Indigenous communities. Sean Gordon, CEO of

Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, said

: 39

From this blindness flows so many of our

roadblocks: doubling up on some types of

services; yawning gaps in other much-needed

services; turf wars; money and resources frittered

away for no gain; efforts that are making a

difference easily abandoned; efforts that are not

effective remaining.

Committing to responsibility-based reform and

greater collaboration within and across regions,

and facilitated by Jawun, they pooled many years’

thinking to develop their ideas. Their principles

for reform were key social norms: children in

school, adults in work, safe care of children and the

vulnerable, freedom from domestic violence and

crime, and family responsibility for public housing


Empowered Communities received bipartisan

support from the Liberal and Labor parties. In 2015,

a report detailing how the transformation could be

delivered was put to government. It was testament to

unprecedented collaboration and common purpose

among Indigenous leaders across Australia. Noel

Pearson said:

It’s never happened before in Indigenous affairs.

We have only ever got together for political

reasons, and then everybody goes to the four

winds and does their own thing. So that’s what

significant about this collaboration across the

eight regions: it is the first time that collaboration

is for reason other than simply some political

crisis or agenda.

Secondees provided strategic and practical

support—such as enabling a shared services model

(see Ngarrindjeri vignette on page 29), helping

new businesses get started (see Wild Eats vignette

on page 41), and finding viable opportunities for

Ngarrindjeri to work on country (see Ngopamuldi

case study on page 44).

When Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority businesses felt

they were being overlooked in public procurement

processes, Jawun secondees from the Australian

Government, EY and Woodside were deployed

to the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority and its

subsidiary, Ngarrindjeri Ruwe Contracting (NRC), to

reshape tender clauses for government contracts.

They registered NRC with the South Australian

Government’s Aboriginal business portal, sought

local council ‘prequalification’, supported proposals,

and developed strong internal tender processes

and probity policy to shore up NRC’s new business


For the first time in South Australia, tenderers are

now engaging directly with an Indigenous nation

and Ngarrindjeri businesses operate on a more level

playing field.

This change enabled NRC to reduce reliance on

government funding by 30% and opened a range

of new partnerships and job opportunities. Luke

Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri leader, said:

Their collective efforts have supported us to grow,

and to employ Ngarrindjeri to work on our lands

and waters—which our people have done for

thousands of years.

Materially and symbolically, secondees continue to

support Ngarrindjeri people to organise effectively

as a nation, enabling governance, development and

partnership with outsiders based on mutual respect.

This powerful reform is a stark departure from the

past and an optimistic step into the future, which

other Indigenous regions are looking to as an example.

The nation-building agenda

has reshaped how Ngarrindjeri

people engage with opportunities,

outsiders and government. After

suffering unfounded attacks on

our credibility and legitimacy,

it’s an application of true cultural

authority that demonstrates our

resilience and collective strength.